MY ABC Thoughts……… New Stadium thoughts.
I have always considered the group put together by the Tampa Bay Rays of local businessmen and women affectionately called the ABC Coalition by a more realistic name. I see them more as the “Average Business Concern” coalition instead of their actual name of “A Baseball Community.” But there are other names for this secret group of “local” business folks that can not be printed here because of the language. Front, center and backwards, the localized business concerns should be their top priority here. To say it is anything else is to lie to themselves and the entire Tampa Bay community.
My other name for the group is the “Almightly Business Conglomerate” because of their basic no fluff,no thrills approach to the any possible stadium considerations in Tampa Bay. Some of the basic decisions they have made recently seem to have more hidden meanings to possible future behind-the-scenes business dealings or the old Southern tradition of backroom politics. The South is famous for telling people what they want to hear, but furnishing them with half truths and slightly angled prespectives on the public’s perception or community ideals of any planned stadium.
I am all for a neutral group outside of the realm of the MLB or the Rays front office to conduct a fact-finding mission to promote both the popular opinion and the local business advantages of any future construction. But I also yearned to see some extreme thoughts or new fangled ideas in the process of any stadium consideration.
But that is not the mission of this group. It is trying to unfold a black and white, no nonsense basis for their decisions. Good luck with that becuase that is as unusual as a three-legged dog winning at Derby Lane.
Where are the “normal” people in this coalition? The group was handpicked by the Rays and are all high profile business leaders/possible future investors/prospective property owners around the proposed stadium site. I have not seen a local small business owner like Mark Ferguson of Ferg’s invited to be a member of the board. Or maybe even a local hotel owner, a plumber, or even a home-based business owner to this group. The cross section of this committee reads like a “Who’s Who in local power circles” instead of being a community involved focus group with the public best interest in mind.
You can see the reason Ferguson would not be invited to the coalition. Their main objection would be the aspect of the possible extinction of his business so close to the present site, Tropicana Field. But he should have a voice, and so should the person sitting next to you at a Rays game. So maybe a small handful of fans, most likely within the Season Ticket conglomerate, or picked lotto style would have been an excellient addition. This fanbase has the Rays best interest in their minds, plus the insight and experiences of the present stadium. Their voices would ring a bit louder and sound truer than some of the “suits” on the committee.
I am not saying pick everyone from just Pinellas county to be on the board. Are all the current board members locally situated?, Are they like the Chairman of the coalition who because of a business transfer is now based out of state (North Carolina) and comes in for the discussions. He now has no sincere reason to be totally objective since not being local speaks volumes to the integrity of the group. Why couldn’t we of had a few people from Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Sarasota/Manatee counties on this committee. These groups form the core of the fanbase, and their traffic adventures and recommendationd would be more honest. Or would that give too much voice to the people who will not only be paying for the stadium, but paying for future tickets to keep your ‘business” afloat every year.
I know a huge chunk is hindsight, but I did not get a listing of the ABC coalition members until recently. Heck, I threw my name out a long time ago only because I am unempoyed and have the time and local knowledge of the region to know if a quick fix was thrown on the table for discussion, or a serious location was being considered. Every time I hear the word “Channelside” mentioned with future business concerns it bothers me. The city of Tampa was bold and enthusiastic in the past to expand its entertainment center towards the Tampa seaport region, and it has come with mixed reviews. People who are done with the Ybor City vibe love the area, but on most nights after nightfall the region becomes a ghost town during the week. It would be great to add some sort of excitement and new energy to that area of the town.
I am all for the aspect of change for Rays baseball. We all know that baseball is a business first and foremost. But why the cloak of mystery by submitting small specks of information daily instead of just plopping 300 pages of findings and recommendations and let us hack through the paper jungle little by little. The way the coalition is handing out small morsels of information and findings show they must think the entire region suffers from ADD. They might not want us to dwell on the fact that 3 of the site recommendation are outside of the Pinellas county area where currently almost 2.1 million people are within 30 minutes of the stadium. The truth be told, the original stadium was built in the wrong place. We all know that, but it is done and we have adjusted to it over the past 12 years. The next site has to be thought out totally and with regards to all aspects of the Tampa Bay community.
What they want you to see of their recent reccomendations is the possible 2.8 million fans that could attend games at the Dale Mabry site and make the attendance blossom a bit every year. But what they failed to tell us is that the league wide attendance in the MLB this year is down, the Rays have a slight increase. Considering this region has close to a 10 percent unemployment rate, any change towards a positive growth in attendance is a good thing. But this committee is making only business recommendations hidden as geographical mumbo jumbo. We all know that the Rays are a financial business not unlike the stock market or hedge funds, they can take losses and financial blips for only so long until something has to be done about it. A good business has to see fresh blood/income every year to grow and flourish in today’s unstable economic environment.
Any stadium will have to be based on the fact it will have to house the Rays for the next 30-some years. With that in mind, you have to consider if your kids will be the type of people to drive and attend
games at this location, or if the area might just be another foundation of urban blight by that time. Do not forget the Rays still have close to 20 years left on their current house, Tropicana Field. The accumulated balance alone on the outstanding bonds and possible relocation penalties make a 3-5 year move a distant memory unless someone pays that bill first. Sorry Rays, my bank account has .80 cents in it right now, but you can have it if you need it.
This first hurdle must be passed before any plans of new construction should be considered. Do not forget the possible lawsuits and class-action litigation by local government,residents and businesses that feel they were left out or misguided with information concerning the team. The basic duty of the coalition should have been to to promote a metropolitan harmony while trying to effectively weigh every option towards finding the best solution for the proposed stadium. So was it any huge surprise that they decided first to consider the current stadium area surrounded by Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Ave. in Tampa?
Did it really even mildly surrpise anyone that they picked a spot that already had some form of road infrasturcture that could support the increase in traffic needs with little improvements. It was probably considered a “middle-of-the-road” response to both Tampa and St. Petersburg responses for a stadium site. Sorry, but I am not on board with any construction in that region based on the honest fact that on any given “football” game day for the Bucs/USF, the traffic situation is murder from I-275 towards the stadium area. To add 81 dates, which includes weekend series on all three days, and a traffic numbing duo game situation where even a preseason game, or even a regular season college game in September or October would go head-to-head with a Rays game for parking and travel would be a logistical night mare for that location. I am not against a Tampa stadium per se, but you need a more condusive and energetic plan in mind than this to keep me shelling out my two grand a year for Season Tickets.
Why is it that people forget that the Tampa Bay region’s businesses both large and small need to step up to the plate here. This is one of the only metros in the baseball where the individual owners of Season Tickets out number the ticketholders of the local business community. That is an indication of a bigger problem. A proposed stadium is only the tip of the iceberg to the image problems that surround the area. If a small business is not supporting the team now how can you expect them to throw their hands out and take the Rays into their arms post-build even as 37,000-40,000 fans flock into the stadium for a Yankee or Red Sox series. It is a Janet Jackson world people where the motto is “What have you done for me lately?”.
I love the fact they threw out the “entertainment” word when they considered the Dale Mabry sight. Yes, nothing says baseball more than rolling down the highway and seeing a space ship situated above a strip bar and wondering if they provide post game entertainment. That and having an establishment like Mons Venus that is popular even with the ESPN crowd within vocal range. But I digress. That region in the city of Tampa can not grow like the neighborhoods surrounding Progressive Field in Cleveland or the SODO region of Seattle. In those cities small local bistros and bars opened up to serve the pre and post game masses and have formed a nice cottage community during the baseball season. There is room to grow right now on Dale Mabry, but the area is already in the midst of a urban blight situation with no cute and cozy establishments or entertainment based flair. It is already bursting at the seams in concrete jungle mentality based on fast food franchises and all-you-can-eat buffetts and chain stores within eyesight of the current Raymond James Stadium.
Not to say that a well heeled businessman will not bulldoze an entire block and rebuild it to a quasi-entertainment center like Ybor City right in the middle of a series of old car lots and strip malls. For that area to again become vibrant and alive, it will take almost as much money as it will to build the stadium to make the surrounding community baseball friendly. People forget, the Bucs only have 8 home games a year, and maybe a few playoff games then it is all over. With Baseball, it runs from the first week in April until the first week in October with spurts of 7 -10 game segments that will overflow the region with people and autos daily to combine with the usual 5 pm traffic horrors.
Where ever the next stadium is built will be an instant gravy train to some people. The key is getting the word before it hits the public’s ears and securing your piece of the pie. How many of these business leaders on this panel have business ties with the Rays? And to throw even more out there, how many of them have any ticket packages with the team currently? For you to even be considered on this panel it should have been a prerequisite that you either have business or season tickets to the Rays. That would show you actually have a emotional involvement with the team and this is not just a business meeting hidden behind the cloak of comminity involvement and possible changes for the betterment of all baseball fans. ( why do I hear Kumbaya in my head right now?)
For the next Rays stadium to be totally a success, the business community has to be at the forefront of the coalition and helping to turn the pages. With baseball firmly implanted in this community it is important that we get informed material out to the public to induce good discussion and responses. Right now this coalition is more like a small political machine spitting out what the public wants to hear. That is not to say that when the final recommendation come out there might not be a ton of material to digest, but right now it smacks of a turn of the century snake oil show to me. They are peddling their wares as exciting and as vibirant as the cureall given out on the dusty trails in the old West.
I have been in sales most of my life, and I can see the dog and pony show coming from a mile away. This ABC coalition needs to be firm and just in its findings. Not just throw out sterile news like the teams needs a retractable roof stadium and a “next generation” design. Come on, that is old, news and not even anything that has not been considered all along here. But the true basis of this committee was to be non-judgemental on location, design and proposed site. I love the fact I have not paid parking for 12 years. People forget that if the Trop had been built even four years later the design and t
he final product would have been significantly different. The industry had such developments after the Florida Suncoast Dome opened its doors that it would stagger the mind. Just look at stadiums buile even 10 plus years ago like Safeco Field and Progressive Field and you will see the open concourses and fan friendly environment the Rays have been fantasizing about for years.
I enjoy the fact that my seat is mine until I do not renew my tickets. And I am not afraid to cross the “bridges” to attend a game if the site is right and the stadium is within a normal traveling distance. OMG! What has this committee turned me into already. I am starting to sound like those people from Tampa the last 12 years who can not get to the stadium before a 7:08 pm game time. But then again, I do have to cross that dreaded bridge. Great excuse! Maybe I can laways take a 180 degree change and just purchase the MLB.TV package and sit in the luxury of my own home and watch the televison, with extra commentary on the umpires and team.
But then again, my hot dog and nachos do not taste the same at home, they have to have that needed smattering of good old fashioned baseball to it. “Build it and they will come” that sounded good back in the early 1980′s when they cleared the old Gas Plant property and built Tropicana Field. But hopefully the sign I see while stuck in traffic on the way to our next stadium will not say “Hot Girls”, or even “All You Can Eat” on them. Hopefully it will be a plain and simple “Welcome Rays Fans” even if it does have a space ship on the top of it.